Dec 15 2018

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Leadership: A Christmas Prayer 1944

Reposted by popular interest.

December 16th, is the 74th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the Christmas season of 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge was in rage. The then Lieutenant General George Patton was maneuvering Third Army in adverse winter weather.  While the  reports on this vary, here is a summary of what many consider a miracle: 

“At 11 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 8, Patton phoned the Head Chaplain of the Third Army, Father James O’Neill , a Catholic priest. “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war” According to Father O’Neill

By Dec. 16, 1944, three NAZI armies of Germany were amassed, consisting of thirteen Panzer and Infantry divisions made up of an estimated 200,000-300,000 men. An enormous surprise attack ensued against the Allies in the Ardennes Forest area of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. Being caught off-guard, the Allies were hard-pressed to keep their lines from breaking under the intense assault.
Bastogne was a town in Southern Belgium of immense strategic importance as eight roads crossed there. Six NAZI Panzer divisions were on a mad rush to occupy it, but the night before, in sub-zero temperature, American troops of the 101st Airborne were trucked in to hold it.

The German commander Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz demanded surrender:
“To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne: The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units there is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note. If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A.A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.
– The German Commander.”
On Dec. 22, 1944, U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe answered:
“To the German Commander.
– The American Commander.”
This unusual response was a surprise for the NAZI commander. But then the Nazis attacked – over 50,000 Nazis assaulted the 15,000 Americans.

After eight days, the Americans were nearly out of ammunition. Marching to their rescue was General George Patton who pulled Third Army out of battle and redirected a hundred mile march to Bastogne, in the winter storm. But Third Army needed Air cover and the weather was too atrocious. The date for the attack was but a few days away, but foul weather threatened to postpone the attack.  

Father James O’Neill


And getting back to the dialog between Gen Patton and Father O’Neill : The often profane and tempestuous Patton, who was known for reading the Bible almost daily, and the humble, mild-mannered priest engaged in a lengthy discussion of the importance of prayer.


“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” inquired the general.
“Does the general mean by chaplains, or by the men?” asked O’Neill.
“By everybody,” Patton replied.
” I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe much praying is going on,” responded O’Neill. “When there is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain – when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.” (Father O’Neill writes)

“Chaplain, I am a strong believer in prayer,” said Patton. “There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin in everything. That’s where prayer comes in.” (Father O’Neill)  

The taciturn O’Neill told Patton that he would research the topic and report back to him within an hour. After this discussion, O’Neill looked out at the immoderate rains which had plagued the Third Army’s operations for the past three months. As he searched through his prayer books, he could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather so he composed an original prayer, which he typed on a note card:”

    “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend, Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”
     On the reverse side, Patton wrote, “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. – G.S. Patton, Jr., Lt. Gen. Commanding, Third United States Army.” This card was sent to the soldiers of Third Army. They prayed.

Miraculously, the weather cleared and the planes gave air support. General Patton’s troops punched through the Nazi lines to rescue the exhausted 101st Airborne and thwart the Nazi advance. The Battle of the Bulge continued through much of January 1945, and less than four months later Hitler committed suicide and the Nationalsozialismus  (National Socialist Workers Party-NAZI) surrendered.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. during World War II. It involved as many as 610,000 Americans, 55,000 British, and 72,000 Free French along Europe’s Western Front for nearly 40 days. There were about 89,000 American casualties and over 100,000 German casualties. My father fought in that battle, and, just prior to that battle, my maternal Grandfather, PFC Cleatus Chapman, was killed there, and buried in the American Cemetery Epinal, France.  

This Christmas we must remember that we still have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in Harm’s way and to keep them in our prayers.

Do have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

CHUCK WILSON (click for info)

Patton in discussion with McAuliffe after Bastogne was saved.




Permanent link to this article: http://myvfw.org/va/dist10/uncategorized/leadership-a-christmas-prayer-1944/